Parenting Practices, Social Skills and Peer Relationships in Adolescence

Article excerpt

The influence of parents on their offsprings' peer relations is not limited to childhood but continues throughout the adolescent years. Little is, however, known about which mechanisms link adolescent functioning in family and peer systems. This study focuses on social skills as a mediator between characteristics of the parent-child relationship and peer relations. Data from a cross-sectional study among 508 12-18-year olds were used for analyses. Findings showed that adolescents' social skills mediated the effects of some parental practices, such as responsiveness, autonomy, cohesion, as well as parental attachment on the degree of peer activity, the attachment to peers and perceived social support from peers to some extent. Nonetheless, direct parental influence on peer relations remained apparent after controlling for the effects of social skills. No effects of gender and age were found. The overall picture is that social skills of adolescents as well as parenting factors, parental attachment and family climate are associated with the quality and intensity of peer relations.

The period of adolescence represents a time of transformations in social relationships. Adolescents spend increasing time in activities with peers without the supervision of adults such as parents and teachers. It is important for them to come in contact with new friends or to strengthen existing bonds. In this way, they get reflections on their own opinions, ideas and emotions (Brown, 1990). Adolescent friendships become more intimate and personal by more frequent disclosure of feelings and thoughts and by provision of emotional support (Buhrmester & Furman, 1987). Despite the increasing relevance of peer relationships, parents do not per se become less relevant in shaping adolescents' cognitions and behaviors. In contrast, recent studies have documented that the impact of parents is not limited to children but that they maintain significant influence on the social functioning of their offspring in adolescence (Parke & Ladd, 1992). In other words, the ways in which young people move around in friendships are affected by aspects within the parent-child relationship.

Thus, in particular in the adolescent years, it becomes important to have the ability to establish and maintain friendships. Youngsters who lack the skills required for the formation of social contacts are less accepted by peers and have fewer affiliations (Furman & Buhrmester, 1985). The interpersonal competencies required to initiate and maintain friendships in adolescence only partially overlap with the playmate skills demanded in childhood (Buhrmester, 1990). For instance, adolescents must be capable of initiating conversations, disclosing personal information and providing support. Additionally, they are expected to express their opinions and to remark critically about functioning of other peers (see Youniss & Smollar, 1985). Consequently, adolescents who experience difficulties with these competencies have more problems in establishing friendships as such, but within their friendships they also have more difficulties in gaining satisfying levels of involvement, intimacy and attachment. The current study examines whether social skills serve as a mediator between parental factors and adolescent peer relations.

There is a large body of evidence on the effects of various parenting factors and socializing styles on adolescent social competence. In his review on empirical studies on attachment and adolescent adjustment, Rice (1990) concluded that in particular with regards to social competence, a stronger bond with parents is related to enhanced social performances. More specifically, in their study on 630 late adolescents, Rice, Cunningham and Young (1997) showed that both maternal and paternal attachment influence adolescents' competence in social situations (e.g., willingness to initiate contacts, to expend effort in completing behaviors and persistence regarding difficulties) which in turn affected their emotional adjustment. …